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Carroo faces potential uptick on field

<p>Freshman wide receiver Leonte Carroo lines up on the Knights’ kick return unit Saturday at Arkansas.</p>

Freshman wide receiver Leonte Carroo lines up on the Knights’ kick return unit Saturday at Arkansas.

It took Leonte Carroo only one preseason scrimmage to earn his unofficial welcome to the Rutgers football team, served up by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene after Carroo crossed the middle of the field.

“I knew college was the real deal [then],” the freshman wide receiver said yesterday. “Unlike high school, you can’t get away with your physical talent or your physical attributes. You have to be smart.”

But outside of a handful of plays this season, Carroo’s appearances against a first-team defense have been limited. The former Rivals four-star recruit has instead been relegated to a largely special teams role, working on kick coverage and block units, among others.

But with the option of redshirting now dismissed, Carroo could see an increased workload in the future.

“There’s still eight games left to play and another bye week, so there’s a lot of stuff still left to happen this year,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “He’s probably the guy who’s going to play most significantly [of the team’s freshmen].”

Flood reserved the Scarlet Knights’ bye week as a final period to evaluate the team’s freshmen before ultimately deciding who to redshirt. Carroo, who first appeared in the Knights’ season opener Sept. 1 at Tulane, is past that judgment.

But his overall impact remains to be seen.

“Coach always says you never know when your chance is, so don’t get frustrated, don’t get down on yourself,” Carroo said. “When your time comes and we put you in a game situation, we expect you to know what you’re doing. I’ve been doing that during the bye week.”

Carroo said he first felt disappointed during training camp, but he eventually overcame the mental hurdle. It likely dealt with a crowded receiving corps, which features four players with at least eight catches.

Two more, junior Jeremy Deering and sophomore Miles Shuler, continue to try to realize their respective roles.

But along with working against the Knights’ top cornerbacks, Carroo appreciates the depth Rutgers boasts along the flank.

“It helps me tremendously,” he said. “When I came in here, like all freshmen, they think they’re better than what they are. They go against guys like [junior corner] Logan Ryan and they see you have a lot of work to do.”

Saddled behind         sophomore Gary Nova and junior Chas Dodd, freshman quarterback Blake Rankin is content with the possibility of redshirting.

“It’s going to take some time for me to play,” Rankin said. “That’s part of the learning process. I have to learn everything before I can go out there.”

The option has been rare in Piscataway.

Both Nova and Dodd were forced into action as freshmen following poor play and injury, respectively, to starters. Former Knight Tom Savage saw playing time in 11 games in 2009 as a true freshman.

Rankin will likely be the first Rutgers quarterback to redshirt since D.C. Jefferson in 2008. Jefferson converted to tight end the next season and has started 34 games.

“It moves them a little bit farther away from the field,” Flood said of having veteran quarterbacks. “When you have the perspective of coaching for a while, you can appreciate more how much more confident and prepared a player is when they’re able to do that as a redshirt freshman.”

Rankin, a starter for two seasons in a shotgun offense at Bloomsburg High School (Pa.), continues to adjust to offensive coordinator Dave Brock’s pro-style system. He admits his footwork needs improvement, but his work with quarterbacks coach Rob Spence has been invaluable.

“He’s going to make sure his quarterbacks know what they’re doing,” Rankin said.

Flood said he does not expect one player to replace fullback Michael Burton, who suffered a season-ending lower leg injury Saturday at Arkansas.

“Maybe it’s not a great comparison, but when a guy like Mohamed Sanu leaves the program, it’s not just one person that can get all those catches,” Flood said. “With all the things our fullback has to do — in the pass game, on the line of scrimmage, blocking, off the ball, carrying — I don’t think it can be just one guy.”

He pointed to sophomore Sam Bergen, as well as tight ends Paul Carrezola, Tyler Kroft and Beau Bachety, as possible candidates to fill in for Burton. Brock already employs Carrezola in a hybrid, H-back role.

Flood said he expects senior defensive end Marvin Booker to play Oct. 6 against Connecticut after missing three straight games because of injury. Booker left the Tulane contest after recording one tackle and did not return.

He suffered a knee injury in the team’s 2011 season opener and missed five games before returning. Booker also appeared in only three games over two previous seasons because of injury.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @tbartotargum.

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